At last week's July Ordinary Meeting of KPPC, we discussed Public Rights of Way (PRoW) in the area. We are aware that, recently, local residents have been advised to stop walking through land south of Kimblesworth that has long been assumed to be a PRoW.
We checked with the County Council who confirmed it is privately registered land and there is no current right of way. We have also spoken to our County Councillors and are aware that there have been similar recent issues in adjoining parishes and these may be related (same owner). It may be the case that with increased footfall during the recent lockdown that the owner(s) decided to act and it was hoped they might have relented as things returned to normal. However, signs of 'no entry' have now been erected to stop people walking through the track in the field. There is a Public Right of Way at Kimblesworth Grange but this is on the south side, running to both the Sacriston road (B6532) and to Potterhouse Lane, Pity Me.
If a track or path has been used as though it is a public right of way over a 20 year period, then there is a process to submit an application to officially register it as a PRoW. This is a long and detailed process that requires written evidence to be completed by many residents, who would possibly need to be interviewed in person by the County Council. Once this evidence is collected, DCC's Highways Commitee would evaluate the weight of evidence and reports from the Access and Rights of Way team and Legal services. There is currently a delay in evaluating evidence due to the amount of applications. The County Council then make a decision to submit (or not) to the Secretary of State at central government for approval - the case must be strong. This approval can take up to 12 months from that point. Despite the lengthy process, this is an action the Parish Council may look to later in the year, and we may call a special meeting with residents to discuss the matter.
However, in the first instance, KPPC will be confirming the owner of the land and look to contact them to discuss the matter further and hopefully agree further use of the track through an informal agreement. We will ask what issues have arisen which have led to the new signage. We will liaise with County Councillors Liddle and Wilson to ensure a joint approach. An update will be given at our September meeting (there is no August meeting each year).
One of our parish councillors continues to walk the existing public rights of way in our area throughout the year. Any issues regarding maintenance can then be directed to the owner of the land and/or DCC if there is a dispute. The Parish Council's powers are limited in this regard but we do try to ensure that all paths are walk-able and can liaise with the relevant parties where required. We can also make minor adjustments eg signage and planting but this would need to be in conjunction with the County Council.
The Parish Council also continue to discuss Ugly Lane with DCC and our County Councillors. Although forming part of a public right of way, this is as a footpath. We are currently looking into who is responsible for the maintenance of the road and what vehicular access is required.
All Public Rights of Way in County Durham can be viewed on DCC's website here (you must zoom into the specific area to view whether a right of way is a footpath, bridle way etc). DCC also provide a wealth of information on rights of way at http://www.durham.gov.uk/prow